Nigel Simeone
International Record Review
August 2014

In June 2013, Alina Ibragimova and Steven Osborne gave a remarkable recital of violin and piano works by Prokofiev and Pärt at the City of London Festival that included both of Prokofiev’s sonatas. A month later they recorded these works along with the Five Melodies in Henry Wood Hall. Hyperion has released the results on a disc that has given me an uncommon amount of pleasure over the last few weeks.

The dark moods of the F minor Sonata Op 80—sometimes grim or weird, sometimes explosive—are relished to the full by both musicians: the range of colours and the precision of the rhythmic articulation are two notable features of a performance that grips the listener from start to finish, thanks to its unflinching conviction as well as its consummate skill. It’s a magnificent performance. The D major Sonata (originally written for flute and piano and transcribed at Oistrakh’s request) is even better. The attention to detail, to subtle nuances, is breathtaking, and the overall drive and momentum of the performance results in a reading as fine as any I’ve heard, in sound that is better than most.

It’s interesting to compare Ibragimova and Osborne with Kremer and Argerich (DG). While the latter is a magnificent partnership by any standards, and the playing has a tremendous energy, panache and technical assurance, I get a feeling of even greater involvement and excitement from the new Hyperion disc. One reason is the care taken over detailed observation of phrasing, rhythm and dynamics—all beautifully managed by Ibragimova and Osborne. In the slow movement of the D major Sonata, the light and shade of the music is captured superbly, and the sense of overall trajectory is remarkable. The whole sonata is given an engrossing performance, fizzing with vitality on the one hand, while sensitive to every particular of Prokofiev’s writing on the other.

The sound is bright and clear, without the opulence of some Hyperion recordings. This was surely a deliberate decision: the slightly brittle quality of Prokofiev’s lyricism comes through with unmistakable character here.

Both violinist and pianist are wonderfully attentive to the minutiae of the score with results that are often extremely telling—but it’s the broad sweep of these performances that makes the disc so compelling, and so exhilarating. It’s tempting to speculate on what this remarkable musical partnership might tackle next. This Prokofiev disc is a triumphant achievement, recommended without reservation.